(Bloomberg) -- Many Princeton University alumni revel in returning to campus for the likes of homecoming and reunions. But with so few hotels near the New Jersey school, finding a place to stay can prove a daunting task.

Capitalizing on that overwhelming demand -- which is especially felt during freshman move-in, graduation and reunions -- a chain called Graduate Hotels is renovating a historic building in downtown Princeton that will house 180 rooms, nearly doubling the number available in town. 

The property, which neighbors the school’s investment office, is expected to open at the end of next year, according to Kevin Osterhaus, president of Graduate Hotels. Parent company AJ Capital Partners -- the “AJ” stands for “adventurous journeys” -- oversees $5 billion of lodging, single-family rentals and other real estate investments. Constructed in 1918, the Princeton building was originally a dormitory and has been used for retail and offices more recently.

“That particular location on Nassau Street is amazing,” Osterhaus said. “It’s in a Princeton historic district right there next to the campus, and the architecture is so defining.” The hotel is likely to start taking reservations several months before its opening, he said.

Graduate Hotels, which specializes in operating lodging in college towns nationwide, plans to incorporate Princeton’s traditions into the building’s interior design, as it has done at other locations. Nods to customs such as the Ivy’s eating clubs and beer jackets -- a ritual of class jackets given out around graduation which dates back more than a century -- will be part of the rooms’ decor, Osterhaus said.

The hotel group, which oversees 30 properties nationwide, has other projects in the works too. It’s slated to open a hotel in Palo Alto, California, near Stanford University in a few months, and another in Dallas near Southern Methodist University next year. 

While the Princeton hotel is a welcome addition for the university and its visitors, it won’t have a huge impact on alumni jockeying for rooms during reunions. During the late-May event, the town’s population typically doubles, with thousands of visitors returning to their alma mater for the weekend.

The Nassau Inn is currently the closest place to stay near campus, and securing a reservation is something of a Herculean feat. Reminiscent of concert tickets, reservations for the sought-after rooms are released at 10 a.m. on a July day the year before reunions weekend. 

‘A Dent’

“When you have 25,000 people showing up for reunions, you can only accommodate a small fraction of them on campus,” said Robert Durkee, who oversaw the college’s community relations for more than four decades. “It’ll make a dent, but there will still be stories of people trying to find places in the surrounding community.”

Such stories include alumni sleeping on friends’ hotel room floors and staying in RVs. As recently as 2019, the college featured parking an RV on campus as a viable housing option for its reunions, though electricity and water hook-ups weren’t included in the set-up. “We get a handful of calls every year” inquiring about RV parking, said Mibs Southerland, director of reunions.

Creative Workarounds

Southerland has orchestrated creative workarounds for the short supply of beds during the crush of alumni guests during reunions, including a shuttle service between campus and 29 hotels, with a focus on those along nearby Route 1. The school also has partnered with other local institutions, including a seminary, to house visitors.

The new hotel isn’t the only property being built around Princeton. The school just finished two new groups of dorms with plans to increase its undergrad population by 500 over four years, beginning with the academic year that just began. It’s also further expanding into nearby West Windsor, with plans that include a geothermal facility and athletic fields. 

Graduate Hotels’ proposal largely won support from community members during four public hearings. Some residents did object -- particularly those who live near the construction site -- saying the project was larger than necessary, zoning documents show.

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